Author: Adam Bratton
Read Time: 7 mins
On September 5, 2020, I bounded down a ski slope called “Caribou” at Hilltop Ski Area in Anchorage, AK to a round of applause compliments of my wife and a few random bystanders. I just completed another Half Marathon. By crossing the 13.1 mile mark that day, my goal of running a Half Marathon in all 50 states was officially complete. What started as an impromptu and random personal goal a few years out of college turned into a massive multi-year commitment. The perspective gained has permanently changed my outlook on life.
At The College of William & Mary, I played Tight End for the football team while earning my BS in Kinesiology (not surprisingly, the study of human movement). I was enthralled with the complexities and capabilities of the human body and had visions of being a strength and conditioning coach to help others achieve the greatest levels of athletic success.
Upon graduating and completing my internship with the Penn State Football Team, I moved to Virginia Beach to start my professional career as a personal trainer at a boutique training studio. As fate would have it, one of my first clients, Kim Moss, was training for another marathon, this time post-mastectomy. I was fully committed to each of my clients and dove headfirst into their specific physical goals, mental drivers, and personalized plans. I learned a lot about what motivates people in their active pursuits … myself included.
Through some encouragement from the VB running community lead by Kim and Jerry Frostick, I saw an alternative to team-sports in running and dipped my worn-out gym shoes and cotton sock covered toes into the “running for fun” thing. As an asthmatic, I appropriately wheezed my way across the finish line of the Race for Breath 5K in 2006, my first ever race. Immediately after, Kim tricked me into signing up for the Shamrock Half Marathon which was only 4 months later. This would be the first step of, what I’d later realize was, a lifelong journey.
I never considered myself a runner and certainly never saw myself running a half marathon. Truth be told, I stopped playing soccer and opted for football in my younger years because I didn’t like to run long distances. I was, however, raised with the mindset of “if you say you're going to do something, do it”. This lesson would be a driving force for my running goals for many years.
I embraced this new challenge and dove headfirst into a training plan to prepare for this new venture. The next four months was a fun and very regimented change of pace. I found myself standing in the start corral fully prepared to run 13.1 miles, but ignorantly unprepared to realize how this experience would shape me over the next 15 years.
Immediately after crossing the finish line of the Shamrock Half Marathon in 2007, I remember emphatically saying “never again!”. I had checked the box and was moving on. Of course, after a few Yuengling’s during the sandy afterparty on the Virginia Beach oceanfront and a good night’s rest, I was swollen with bites from the running bug. I immediately started looking for more races … more distances … more challenges. What an perfect way to stay active and connect with a massive community during my personal and professional transition after college. I’ve got boxes of race bibs and medals to prove that I was “all in”.
My running addiction was one of the first things that was unpacked when I moved to Charlotte, NC for my MBA in 2009. Quick “race weekend” trips to drivable destinations in the Southeast was a common occurrence. A trip to the Pacific Northwest in June 2012 for the Rock N Roll Seattle Half Marathon further opened my eyes to life experiences that running could provide. An excuse to stay active, travel the country, see, and embrace new things. This spawned the launch of my self-proclaimed 50 in 50 challenge. Starting in 2013, I set my sights on running a Half Marathon in all 50 states. Washington state was officially #9. I also ran with an engagement ring in my pocket and proposed at the finish line … We’ll save that for another Journal Entry.
I was on an absolute war path over the next few years … I spent all my free time combing race calendars, dirt cheap flights, and even dirtier and cheaper motels. 6 new states in 2013, 10 new states in 2014, 10 more in 2015. Then, our first son, Miles (yes, his name is intentional) was born in 2016. Things were about to change. For the parents out there, you can relate to the constant conflict of priorities that ensues. Flying all over the country with an ever-patient wife is one thing. Doing so with a small child is a whole different ballgame.
My perspective completely shifted when I woke up at 3am in a nondescript hotel in Grand Rapids, MI on what was supposed to be “race morning”. My toddler was, again, screaming hysterically, and my wife had attended to him the first three times that night/morning. I was overdue to pick up the slack for sure. I scooped Miles from his pack-and-play and tried to doze off next to him on a makeshift bed of pillows and blankets on the floor as I laid and felt a palpable guilt. I was the reason that everyone was supposed to be ready to head out the door in 2.5 hours. We planned our entire trip around me running the Holland Haven Half Marathon that morning, a 60 minute drive away, and I had the clear understanding that my selfish goals shouldn’t dictate everyone’s ultimate schedule.
I turned off my alarm and the room finally embraced a few hours of silence. When our groggy eyes flickered open, I quickly changed plans and laid out my own 13.1 mi run. I linked up greenways to the urban core of Grand Rapids, found some amazingly historic neighborhoods, and ended at Brewery Vivant (a brewery that I wanted to visit on this trip anyway). I would head out on my makeshift “course”, and Kristi and Miles could catch a few more moments of rest without feeling rushed. We would meet at the brewery and celebrate another state checked off the list … this time on our own terms and on our own schedule.
The remaining 8 states were subsequently and more casually checked off the map over the course of the following 3 years while another little dude (Maximus) joined our family in 2018. These remaining states were approached from a very different perspective … one of intention, one of collectiveness, one of fulfillment for the experience that WE determined and dictated. I didn’t care about running on a specific date that was set by race schedules or a set route that permits and municipalities had to approve. These remaining states got me back to the foundation of my 50 in 50 goal. Explore the country, expand my horizon, and now with kids of my own, reiterate the concept of “if you say you're going to do something, do it”.
From the beginning, this goal was my own. I didn’t start or finish it for validation or to show up in race results. I’m no longer interested in the obligatory medal or race shirt. These experiences have taught me that my memories, my broader sense of exploration, and my willingness to roll with the punches has wildly outshot the expectations that I had exactly 15 years ago at the Start Line of the Shamrock Half Marathon.
Undoubtedly, there is still a place for more structured races in our lives … in fact, I've built a career out of creating one of the most comprehensive race series’ in the country and I still RD three Events under the under the Human Powered Movement brand. But for me personally, I am seeking the next phase of experiences and my running journey.
None of this would have been possible if I didn’t have the support to line up for my first Half Marathon in March of 2007. There is some irony as the 2022 Shamrock Marathon celebrates its 50th Anniversary. That 50 number has helped me growth physically, mentally, and emotionally over the last decade and a half and I can’t thank Kim and Jerry enough for guiding me down an amazing and fulfilling lifelong path.
Now also seems like the right time to mention it publicly, but I’ve already started another 50 in 50 goal. I’m currently 15 months into running 50 Half Marathons in 50 straight months. This is a personal goal on my own terms and on my own time. With that said, if anyone is out there is looking for a running buddy to start their own journey, I’ll happily adjust my schedule to make it work. You never know where a new goal will take you ... toeing a Start Line is a good place to begin.
Journal - What I Learned Running a Half Marathon in All 50 States
Human Powered Journal
Writings and musings of an active lifestyle
Adam Bratton is the Founder and Head Enabler at Human Powered Movement.
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